The verdict on 3 new Atlanta restaurants: El Vinedo Local, Tum Pok Pok, and La Calavera Pizza

Uruguayan empanadas, pungent northern Thai salads, and the return of Kirkwood’s La Calavera—this time, as a pizzeria

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El Vinedo Local Atlanta
El Vinedo Local

Photograph by Martha Williams

El Vinedo Local
As if following a long slumber, this airy, urbane South American cafe from proprietor Robert Kaster has awakened slowly over the course of the spring. Initially, El Vinedo Local (“the local vineyard”) was open only for breakfast, lunch, and coffee, with the promise of wine and dinner on the near horizon as of press time; someday soon, one hopes, patrons of the Fox Theatre, a stone’s throw down Peachtree Street, will even be able to drop in after a show for a late-night nosh and a nightcap on the restaurant’s handsome patio. No matter the time of day, a visit pays in delicious dividends. Chef Bruno Vergara, most recently of South Main Kitchen in Alpharetta, turns out delicate arepas and empanadas (including empanadas Criolla, stuffed in the style of Vergara’s native Uruguay with ground beef, olives, and hard-boiled eggs), Argentine-style choripán sandwiches (filled with chorizo and chimichurri, served with yucca fries), and a lively ceviche of Georgia shrimp, crunchy plantain chips, cilantro, and Meyer lemon oil. The coffee (fair trade, organic) is from Americus roastery Cafe Campesino, and a majority of the wines will be from South American producers. 720 Peachtree Street, Midtown, 404-596-8239

Tum Pok Pok
The Mekong River separates the country of Laos from the northeastern Thai region of Isan, with some culinary tendencies shared across the waterway: heat, funk, lots of salads. Those elements are also characteristic of the invigorating fare at Tum Pok Pok, a new Isan restaurant on Buford Highway from Adidsara Weerasin, who owns Bangkok Thyme in Sandy Springs. On the numbered menu, it’s best to start at the top: #1 is lab kao tord, a spicy, slightly sweet, lime-spiked ground-chicken salad, laced with cilantro and shredded ginger and served with the lettuce leaves it’s meant to be eaten off of. The sharp heat, the herby tang, the tender meat—they’re set off beautifully by peanuts and crunchy clusters of sticky rice. You’ll want to order a series of these street food–style plates, so why not move on to #2: lemongrass-scented e-sarn sausage, whose heat is amplified by coins of raw ginger and a chili dipping sauce. And speaking of heat, don’t skip the cleansingly fiery som tum pla lah—papaya salad with fermented fish sauce (#12)—unless it’s in favor of a full som tum platter (#14), which also has pork sausage, boiled eggs, and other goodies. (The restaurant’s name is inspired by the sound of chilis being beaten in a mortar in the preparation of som tum.) Pad Thai (#17), several curries, and other, more standard Thai fare is available further down the menu. The dining room is charmingly cluttered with colorful decor. 5000 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 404-990-4688

La Calavera Pizza
One of the very first lousy things to happen last year was the January closure of La Calavera, where Mexico-born, Atlanta-raised baker Eric Arillo crafted sourdough breads and sweet Mexican pastries including conchas and (in season) pan de muerto, the bread of the dead. Now, Arillo and his wife and business partner, Dale Ralston, have resurrected La Calavera (Spanish for “skull”) as a pizza joint. On a recent weeknight, the deck ovens were cranked up and the pair were vending pies from a takeout window off the side of the building, offering 16-inch circles and grandma-style square pizzas they call ladrillos, or “bricks,” because “they’re red, hefty, and have four corners.” Fair enough. Ladrillos—which are lovely, soft inside and crisp at the edges—are also notable because they’re available by the slice, at $2.50 per, with toppings extra. Full pies include the Homeboy, with mushrooms and Spotted Trotter pepperoni, and the Luna, with fresh and shredded mozz. More toppings wouldn’t be terrible, nor would a more interesting selection of composed pies, but one can’t fault Arillo’s excellent sourdough crusts, made with white, whole wheat, or gluten-free flour. (Vegan cheese is also available.) The whole wheat, in particular, provides a welcome bit of sweetness and plays off the dried herbs sprinkled on the pies. 1696 Memorial Drive, Kirkwood, 404-697-7030

This article appears in our June 2021 issue.

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